Jessica Jones is a Netflix original series created by Melissa Rosenberg, and is the latest series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The show is based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, portrayed by Kristen Ritter. The series also notably stars David Tennant as the lead antagonist Kilgrave, as well as Mike Colter as Luke Cage. The story follows Jessica Jones, a woman with superhuman strength, who works as a private investigator after a brief superhero career.
In the same vein as Daredevil, which came out earlier this year, Jessica Jones is another street-level story set in New York City. As such the stories are a lot more personal and the stakes are more grounded than the more grandiose entries seen in the MCU films. Unlike Daredevil, however, this series approaches superheroism in the neo-noir, detective drama genres.
What surprised me most about the series was how Jessica already had a past with the villain, Kilgrave, rather than introducing him as the story progressed. While knowing very little about the series, I expected it to be a lot more episodic, involving Jessica and her life as a P.I., with the plot eventually coming together to involve Kilgrave somehow. What the show presents was instead a lot more unique, creating a much more emotional and character driven story.
This series is in many ways the darkest story Marvel has presented so far, dealing with a range of serious topics such as rape, assault, substance abuse, and trauma. Kilgrave has the power to control people’s minds, which he inflicted severely upon Jessica in the past, using her and exploiting her powers to his own ends. What I really liked about how the series approached these issues was that, for the most part, it let these horrible instances speak for themselves. The word rape isn’t even mentioned regarding Jessica’s past with Kilgrave until the midpoint of the season, but it is easily understood from the onset that Kilgrave had been monstrous in this way and more.
Tennant’s portrayal as Kilgrave cements him as one of the best villains to grace the MCU, which have been in somewhat short supply. While I love Loki and Kingpin, others have not brought a lot to the table that has made them particularly compelling. Even Ultron, who I do really like, wasn’t given enough to make him stand out beyond clever quips and decent charisma. Kilgrave is absolutely sinister. He is merciless and exploitative, while at the same time being so charming that I caught myself occasionally sympathizing with him, before reminding myself how abhorrent he is.
As Tennant has spoken about in interviews, there are in fact a lot of sympathetic aspects to Kilgrave’s situation, despite his vile tendencies. He can never truly know if somebody is doing something because they want to or because he is telling them to, and realizing this I wonder if anybody could hold a power like that without becoming corrupted by it. Ultimately, he’s only in pursuit of what will make him happy, rather than typical or clichéd supervillain ambitions. Many innocent people are harmed along the way, making his behaviour deplorable, but we can still connect with his desire on a human level.
I liked Jessica as a protagonist quite a lot. The archetypical “asshole” type character, who is abrasive, crude, and doesn’t care what other people think has a tendency to come across obnoxiously. Jessica is written and performed quite well in this role, however, where I understood quite clearly that her behaviour is riding on the shoulders of a lot of pain and, despite appearances, helping people and doing the right thing matters to her a lot. When it comes down to the wire she doesn’t act overly irritated or callous, but does her best to save as many people as she can.
Her story of living with trauma and deciding to confront it despite the turmoil it causes her had me hooked from episode one. The aspects of exploitation and abuse juxtaposed brilliantly with a protagonist wielding superhuman strength, demonstrating that there are many ways to make one feel powerless. The MCU has brushed with trying to depict post-traumatic stress before with Tony Stark, but they never really committed to exploring that idea, favouring instead to end Iron Man 3 with a big robot fight. Jessica Jones handles the issue a lot better, using it as a force much of the characters consistently struggle to overcome.
The supporting cast is rather strong, utilizing the likes of Luke Cage, Trish Walker (Hellcat in the comics), and others to give a lot of personality to the story. Despite her desire to be a loner, Jessica associates with a range of people that that are all haunted in some way. This challenges her with helping to support them and their demons while combating her own. A bit too much time was dedicated to the dissolving marriage of Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer who helps Jessica acquire cases, but for the most part everybody has something unique and meaningful to contribute to the story.
The only disappointing thing about the series for me has been related to the amount of hype I heard prior to watching through it. While I had avoided a lot of the critical reception, many people I knew had already seen through it and were giving it high praise. I feel this may have over-inflated my expectations, resulting in me feeling slightly underwhelmed by the end.
Jessica Jones is a great series nonetheless, presenting a fresh approach to a superhero story. Sexuality and darker issues are tackled in a fantastically real and engaging way that has been absent from much of the live-action depictions of the genre thus far. While connected to the MCU, it stands enough on its own to be watched through without having seen anything prior, yet expands further upon the universe in an exciting way. I can’t wait to see what comes next.